When Tim Sherwood used a Bobcat to break through the asphalt behind the Blue Marlin Inn, he wanted to dig a hole for a giant Christmas tree stand.
Instead, he unearthed an historical mystery.
Sherwood began to see horseshoes, old bottles, even dishware in some of the loads of dirt that were brought up.
“There were teapots. The teapot got buried—we weren’t fast enough,” he said.
On Nov. 14, Sherwood’s crew dug up an old metal helmet that Alberni Valley Museum manager Jamie Morton said is consistent with a First or Second World War style.
“We have four helmets in the collection here—all the same shape,” Morton said. “It looks like the same shape was used by the Canadian military in both wars,” he added, noting the museum’s helmets are from both wars.
The teacups and ceramic plate fragments “look to be mostly pre-Depression era,” Morton said. “ I see from Jan Peterson’s book Twin Cities: Alberni – Port Alberni…that the Arlington ‘renovated the dining room, lobby and entrance and added a new ladies’ refreshment parlour’ in early 1938. The discarded china may well date from that renovation.”
The museum will document the finds—curator Kirsten Smith went out on the first day to take photographs—but Morton said there is nothing they can do about protecting the discovery.
“For the province, their legislation just covers First Nations,” he said.
The Arlington Hotel, built in 1893 by Matt Ward at the corner of Johnston Road and Margaret Street, was the second hotel in Port Alberni. The hotel was a social centre for the community, featuring a dining room and saloon. In the back of the hotel there was also a livery stable, which likely explains the abundance of horseshoes.
Sherwood said some oldtimers have told him there used to be a swampy area behind the hotel with a boardwalk across it.
Morton said he has often seen historic bottle dumps adjacent to residential buildings, and said a swampy area would be consistent with a dump—there weren’t community dumps a century ago like there are today, he added.
“It’s possible this relates to one of the renovations of the Arlington—where surplus stuff was just taken out back and dumped or buried as the building was cleared out for renovation.”
The Arlington closed down on May 31, 2011, but reopened a short time later with new owners and a new name—Blue Marlin Inn—and is now run by Tallyn Wittal and Melody Magaton.
Manager Wittal said the artifacts will be featured in the inn, much like historical photos of the century-old hotel and Johnston Road area already are.
“We’ll clean them up and I think we’re going to be putting them on display in the rooms we’re renovating.”
The Blue Marlin has two full rooms renovated as well as four European-style rooms that share a shower and toilet down the hallway. Two more full rooms will be finished in the spring, Wittal added.
Sherwood said there used to be a house on the lot where the Mag’s 99 sign is located in the parking lot now. “My uncle tore it down and there were newspapers in the wall; one had a headline that said President Lincoln was shot.”
The artifacts dug up from the parking lot are not the first that Sherwood himself has discovered at the Blue Marlin: when he was renovating some of the rooms last year he discovered remnants of newspapers stuffed into the walls for insulation, dating back to the late 1800s.
“If you read the stories without looking at the date, they would apply today,” he said.